Note: the intention of this article is to provide an overview of manual handling, however, further reading is essential. Refer to the resources listed at the end of the article for more information. It is crucial that you receive appropriate, practical manual handling training and supervision from your facility. You must also follow workplace policies and procedures and be familiar with relevant state/federal Legislation.
What is Manual Handling?
Manual handling includes any activity carried out in the workplace that requires the use of force. It encompasses acts such as:
(DoET 2018; Better Health Channel 2017)
Manual Handling Risks in Healthcare
Hazardous manual tasks are the largest cause of occupational injury to nurses and midwives
Musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling account for a considerable number of manual handling injuries to nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers
Insured and uninsured costs of manual handling tasks add significantly to the cost of providing health, aged care and community services
A large proportion of manual task-related injuries are preventable
Shoulder and back injuries incurred by nurses and midwives often result in long-term or permanent disability.
(NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association 2017)
Manual handling can result in significant or irreversible injuries, particularly musculoskeletal injuries, which may include:
Soft tissue injuries
Nerve damage or compression
Back and neck injuries
Bone and joint injuries to hands, feet, shoulder, wrist, hip, knee, ankle etc.
Ligament and tendon damage
Muscle sprains and strains
(SWA 2011, 2017)
Factors related to manual handling tasks that increase the risk of injury:
Shift work, or any work in which you are in a fixed posture for an extended amount of time
Fatigue, which may also be impacted by your type of work
Older age and other factors that reduce physical ability
Previous injury, poor health or a generally low level of fitness
Poor workplace design, e.g. one that is cramped or poorly laid out
The object to be moved being in an inconvenient location and of considerable weight
Loads that are awkward to grasp and move
Inadequate staff training
Low staffing levels
Handling people, which increases the likelihood of strain.
Abide by these four steps to effectively manage hazards associated with manual handling tasks:
1. Identify hazards
Inspect the workplace
List the hazards you find
Talk to other workers
Review information about workplace injuries and incidents.
2. Assess the risk(s)
Identify the following in relation to the task:
The movements involved
The duration of the task
Whether the task requires high or sudden force
Whether the task involves vibration.
3. Control the risk(s)
Using the hierarchy of controls, apply the following methods of hazard prevention in
order of highest protection to lowest protection:
Personal protective equipment.
4. Review risk controls
Implemented control measures should be reviewed and, if necessary, revised.
Methods to Prevent Injury During Manual Handling
Explore ways to minimise lifting heavy items
If possible, lighten loads by breaking them into smaller quantities
Prevent muscle strain and fatigue. This includes warming up before working, taking rest breaks, and allowing time to get used to a new task
Move your feet rather than twisting your back, reduce or avoid bending, twisting, reaching movements
During long shifts change tasks so as to give specific muscles a break
Try not to rush due to lack of time, competing demands, lack of staff or patient needs - you should value your own safety
Use the appropriate equipment and assistive devices correctly, and use mechanical aids when possible
Do not use poorly maintained equipment or equipment you have not been trained for
Do not be afraid to ask for help and use teamwork
Watch out for and support peers to care for themselves in the workplace
Attend and advocate for regular training on manual handling
Abide by workplace manual handling policies and guidelines
Abide by the principles of proper body alignment and body mechanics
Learn how to recognise activities that have the potential for injury and act to reduce the risk
Avoid performing high-risk activities.
(WorkSafe NZ 2-17; de-Vitry Smith 2021; DoET 2018)
Always question procedures and practices that seem outdated, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you perceive a risk to you or your coworkers.
Review Relevant State/Federal Legislation
You should be familiar with (and thus refer to) relevant state/federal legislation that stipulates the roles of both employers and employees.
All workplaces should have policies and procedures on manual handling and hazard, incident and injury reporting. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 applies to employees and employers. Breaches of duty under the work health and safety legislation could result in penalties.
Disclaimer: This article is to be used in conjunction with your organisation’s policies and procedures regarding manual handling. This article does not replace the theory of mandatory training regarding manual handling from your organisation. Appropriate theoretical and practical training of manual handling in your workplace should be provided by your employer.
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